PLAYS: Black Coffee (1934) - the rarest 1st edition play.
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
The first play Agatha Christie wrote was Black Coffee, which was penned around 1929-1930, and featured Hercule Poirot. Generally plays were performed from stage scripts in the first few years, that were often larger, braided copies, often scribbled all over and revised by the author. Once the commercial play has run for a while, a play would typically be made available for amateur productions. At this time, a publisher is found to make a retail version of the play. While Christie's plays were almost exclusively published by Samuel French, her first play was not as in the 1930s Samuel French was not yet the dominant publisher in this space.
With commercial productions running from 1930 onwards, Christie turned to Alfred Ashley & Son, a small publisher in south-west London for her first play to be printed for amateur usage. This first retail edition was published in 1934, with orange soft covers and a price of two shillings and six-pence (about 20 cents US). It remains the only Agatha Christie play published by Ashley & Son. Publishing rights were later transferred to Samuel French, and their edition published in the 1940s onwards conforms to the normal style of play scripts from that era.
Collectability: Black Coffee is the crown jewel for play script collectors. It was Christie's first play, fully penned by her, featuring Poirot, and published by someone other than Samuel French. While one of the challenges for collectors of plays is knowing how to correctly identify a first edition, Black Coffee, although the rarest Christie play, is one of the easiest to correctly identify. The key items are orange covers, a price of 'two shillings and sixpence net', the title 'BLACK COFFEE' on the spine, plain rear cover, reference to both the copyright of 1930 and acting edition copyright of 1934 on the first page, plus the date 1934 underneath the publisher's name. This is an incredibly rare item and extremely collectible.
Value: Plays have suffered from a lack of understanding over the years and as such no clear pricing norms have evolved. If one were to compare it to the less common early 1930s hardbacks without a jacket or wrapper, a value of ~$1,000 plus would be on expected. To be in alignment, the correct 1st printing of this same period acting edition should be similar. However, scarcity is such that when you find one price could be a function of pay what you will to obtain it. Generally though fair value is anywhere from $500 - $1,500 depending on condition. Generally, old play books will be worn, used and read. Many will include notations and writing inside them. A well used version of Black Coffee (1934) would be towards the low end of this price range while a clean, well preserved copy would be at the top end.
The later edition from Samuel French from the 1950s era is worth $20 - $50. Other items that can enhance the appeal can be period correct programs showing early productions, and especially ones signed by the actors of the day. The additive value of these items is minimal, but still part of the appeal of collecting play scripts.